A new podcast is taking listeners down a rabbit hole of bizarre Jewish history.
Released in November, the “Jewish Bizarre Podcast,” a new project from Reboot, a Jewish arts and culture nonprofit and development platform (rebooting.com), explores little-known pockets of Jewish history that are strange, mysterious and often downright shocking.
In fact, podcast host Eddy Portnoy calls it a “Jewish Atlas Obscura of historical material.”
“It’s the strange corners of history that most historians don’t deal with,” he said, “and that most people don’t even know about.”
The “Jewish Bizarre Podcast” is the inaugural podcast of the new Reboot Presents Podcast Network, which features top idiosyncratic Jewish personalities. It’s produced by executive producers David Katznelson and Noam Dromi and engineered by Jonathan London.
This new podcast features Portnoy, academic adviser for the Max Weinreich Center and exhibition curator at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, as one of three co-hosts who join ranks to discuss the Jewish bizarre.
Podcast hosts also include Tony Michels, professor of Jewish American history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jessica Chaffin, writer, comedian and host of the popular podcast “Ask Ronna.” Together, they explore the strangest corners of Jewish history.
The Topics Not Taught in Hebrew School
Episodes are released weekly and tackle everything from how an 1875 murder changed the perception of Jews forever, to false messiahs and wrestling rabbis, to even Jewish stereotypes such as nose shape and how that impacted the world’s view on Jews.
While all episodes are unique in their own way, Portnoy, who is based in Harlem, says one of the most bizarre is about the Tonsil Riots of 1906, which the podcast dives deeply into.
“In 1906, on the Lower East Side, 50,000 Jewish mothers rioted because their children’s tonsils were taken out in public schools,” Portnoy, 57, explained. “It was really a major uproar and it’s an unusual moment in Jewish history.”
This story, Portnoy said, is representative of the “Jewish Bizarre Podcast” as a whole. “It’s one of the ones that I find appealing and exciting because it reveals aspects of Jewish life that very few people know about,” he continued.
Portnoy said each podcast episode was researched extensively and that listeners can expect a mix of humor, seriousness and, of course, very shocking stories.
“The historical aspect is serious, but it’s dealt with in a lighthearted manner,” he said. “Tony and I bring the content, but Jessica draws it out in really clever and humorous ways.”
Discussing stereotypes in particular, Portnoy said, has become more important than ever given the recent rise in public antisemitism, even if those stereotypes are approached from an edge of humor.
“Stereotypes affect Jews adversely,” he said, “and especially now that’s really come to the forefront and become very problematic.”
Learning More About the Bizarre
To help listeners better understand each episode, the “Jewish Bizarre Podcast” has released an episode guide that includes definitions for key terms, photographs, newspaper clippings, artwork and additional visual resources and links for reading.
Episodes drop weekly and can be found on major podcast listening platforms, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Listeners can also find them on the Reboot website.
Following its release of the “Jewish Bizarre Podcast,” Reboot Presents will soon release top episodes from previous Reboot podcasts, including “The Kibitz,” “Kasher v. Kasher,” “Closening” and “In Quarantine with Steve Bodow” as other new content is in production.
The “Jewish Bizarre Podcast” episode guide includes “Only Murder in the Shtetl,” which explores a famous murder; “Jewish Anarchists and the Yom Kippur Balls,” which discusses how young Eastern European Jewish immigrants discovered anarchism; and “The Tonsil Riots and other Jewish Uprisings,” which dives into the strangest Jewish riots.
Episodes also include “Jewish Geniuses, Idiots and the Greatest Mohel,” which explores the age-old question of whether there really are more Jewish geniuses; and “The Strange World of Nosology and the Jewish Shnozz,” which debunks the long-running stereotypes surrounding Jews and nose shape.
Throughout the episodes, podcast hosts discuss what it ultimately means to be Jewish and share their personal stories that relate to Judaism’s most bizarre topics.
“The reception for our topics has been pretty strong,” Portnoy said. “There’s definitely interest there.”
Ashley Zlatopolsky is a writer for the Detroit Jewish News, where this first appeared.